Author: Peter Mehlman Category:

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“Mehlman’s narrative is spirited, political, and both hilarious and sadly reflective of the digital culture that can befriend or betray on a whim. A witty, culturally perceptive dark comedy.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

Arnie Pepper is having the worst day of his life. The Pulitzer-prize winning sports columnist for the Washington Post has lived a thrilling, prestigious and (mostly) blameless existence over nearly four decades of rubbing shoulders with athletic royalty at all the most prestigious sporting events of our times. Then one day, within the confines of an impromptu gathering of fellow reporters, he tosses out a characteristic one-liner. Overheard and subsequently posted on social media, his joke goes viral. The ensuing hurricane of condemnation threatens to take his job and reputation, alienate his daughter, and decimate his obsessively observed inner world.

#MeAsWell is the second novel from Peter Mehlman, an essayist, artist, comic, filmmaker, and longtime writer/producer for the iconic television show Seinfeld. At once surreal and too real, laughable and on point, the novel examines the inner and outer turmoil that results when a well-meaning but iconoclastic public figure, having failed to update his cultural operating system, unwittingly runs afoul of the new rules of woke America.

In everyday interactions, and especially in his popular columns, Pepper’s sense of humor has always been his fortune—the gateway to a comfortable life as a journalist and enriching friendships with everyone from Billy Jean King to Barack Obama. An early proponent of Title IX–and a devoted single father of a daughter–Pepper has long been a champion of women’s sport. But now, despite his best intentions, he finds himself in the eye of a media storm that is turning darker and more dangerous, his life threatened by a hilarious retort—or at least it seemed hilarious at the time.

PRAISE FOR #MEASWELL

“It takes a certain kind of courage or, rather, daring to write a satirical novel or send-up of the MeToo movement. Comedy in the wake of contemporary cultural progressing towards an intolerance of not just sexual abuse and assault but casual sexism is a difficult vein to mine…#MeAsWell isn’t a perfect novel nor does it need to be. What it does do is scratch an itch many will have to both blame and exonerate social media and cultural conventions.” —Misanthropester

“A novel capitalizes on an online viral phenomenon and how reckless commentary can be hyped to catastrophic heights.

“Former Seinfeld writer/producer Mehlman’s (It Won’t Always Be This Great, 2015, etc.) book dramatizes a very real and contemporary situation where something as simple as a joke told among friends can be overheard and freely disseminated worldwide. Such is the case for single dad Arnie Pepper, a widowed, 60-year-old Washington Post sports columnist, who has managed to fly under the radar of controversy for the length of his widely respected, nearly four-decade journalism career. That legacy, which includes interactions with O.J. Simpson at the 1984 Olympics, Larry Bird, and Penny Marshall, swiftly fractures when he makes a demeaning verbal faux pas denigrating a male pro basketball player for being on the injured list due to a hysterectomy. After a media agent posts the comment on Instagram, word spreads like wildfire through press outlets, which cry misogyny and demand answers. Public outrage manifests in episodes of what Pepper considers “acidy micro-aggression” from anyone who recognizes him on the street. Falling from grace and watching his back like a modern-day pariah, he attempts to mitigate the situation but groups like the “Radical Masculine Feminists,” the gynecological community, and industry contemporaries demand apologies and swift termination from his employer. Pepper’s mother, daughter, and ultimately his editor have faith in his good name and ability to rebound from social disgrace with appropriate accountability. Pepper’s characterization is wonderfully enhanced courtesy of his italicized thoughts as he grapples with the melodrama suddenly enveloping his life and Pulitzer Prize-winning career. The resultant whirlwind of rumors, hurt feelings, and damaged reputations whips this novel into a frenzy, with Pepper trying to stay afloat in an era one fellow reporter calls “an overzealous age of sexual persecution.” Virtually chapterless and told over the course of two eventful days in 2018, Mehlman’s narrative is spirited, political, and both hilarious and sadly reflective of the digital culture that can befriend or betray on a whim.

“A witty, culturally perceptive dark comedy.”–Kirkus Reviews 

“It takes a certain kind of courage or, rather, daring to write a satirical novel or send-up of the MeToo movement. Comedy in the wake of contemporary cultural progressing towards an intolerance of not just sexual abuse and assault but casual sexism is a difficult vein to mine. Certainly so if the comedic writer is a well-off Boomer white man known for helping to create one of the most iconic television series of all time (Mehlman helped write and produced Seinfeld). And yet, here we are with Peter Mehlman’s novel #MeAsWell, a glimpse into the life of a man who just can’t seem to understand how or when he became a ‘bad guy.’

“The characters we all came to know in Seinfeld were beyond flawed; they were bad people. We watched because they got themselves into ridiculous situations by making bad choices, were so committed to being selfish that things always spun out of control. And we laughed. We laughed at them just as often as we laughed with them–we were the perfect audience, smug and sympathetic. So when Mehlman gives us another such character how are we to respond? Watching Seinfeld now is often difficult as, beyond nostalgia, comedically the show doesn’t really hold up. We’ve grown beyond that kind of humor thanks to that kind of humor. Mehlman’s Arnie Pepper finds himself in this situation and has no idea how to respond thus making his every move both overwrought, overthought, and earnestly, non-pejoratively ignorant.

“Mehlman’s novel moves quickly and his prose is that of someone who knows how to usher a script along. Yet at no point will readers feel they’re enduring a scriptwriter turned wannabe novelist. Mehlman has a genuine gift for inhabiting his character’s mind and making readers feel it’s natural and believable even when the situation when pondered for even a moment is not. Arnie Pepper is a sportswriter. The kind of old school sports writer who every few years breaks out an article decrying ‘soccer,’ the kind of funny, nuanced sports writer talking head pundits like Skip Bayless, Alexi Lalas, and Stephen A. Smith think they are. But, we know they’re not. And Arnie Pepper discovers thanks to an off-hand comment, he isn’t what he thinks he is either.

“It’s a bit over the top at points, but when writing this kind of satire caricature is necessary. Mehlman writes with a tone similar to Christopher Moore’s and, honestly, the humor is much the same. The flaws we see are less Mehlman’s than they are Pepper’s and remembering that as a reader is vital in not appreciating but understanding the satire. Throughout the whole of the novel as Pepper endures the fallout on social media, mainstream media, and his personal life due to a joke we are consistently told was really funny at its core but these days…

“Fact is, nothing Pepper says is as funny as Pepper thinks it is. None of his observations on the events around him rise much beyond the level of willful hypocrisy. But Pepper desperately wants to be liked. There is no Gen Xer, Millennial, or Gen Z person alive who cares more about what others think of themselves as a Boomer. This is funny. Not ‘ha-ha’ funny, but, you know, funny. And while Pepper doesn’t really do anything to interrogate his own motivations and actions preferring to spend his time obsessing and ranting about how ‘if they really knew me,’ readers can see themselves. They can see not just themselves but their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, husbands, son and daughters. Readers realize they’re like this, attracted and repulsed, and that is what makes for good satire.

“#MeAsWell isn’t a perfect novel nor does it need to be. What it does do is scratch an itch many will have to both blame and exonerate social media and cultural conventions. In this way, Peter Mehlman has given readers a primer for dealing with Joe Biden as well as BernieBros and all the petty, myopic Instragram stars in the world.” —Misanthropester

“SEINFELD” WRITER PETER MEHLMAN TAKES ON THE CULTURE WAR IN “#MEASWELL”

By Danny Karel, The Argonaut

Peter Mehlman’s particular form of satire — playful, a touch neurotic — has earned him a successful career. He was a writer and executive producer on the iconic TV show “Seinfeld,” responsible for some of the show’s most memorable bits and phrases including “double-dipping,” “shrinkage” and “yada yada.” He has contributed humor pieces to The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Esquire. He’s a stand-up comedian. But, as Mehlman observes — and Arnie Pepper, the Pulitzer-prize winning sports journalist and protagonist of Mehlman’s latest novel “#MeAsWell,” discovers — these are not easy times to be funny.

Over the course of a whirlwind 48 hours, the fictional Pepper’s gilded career is threatened when an off-color joke questioning an NBA player’s masculinity slips onto social media. The wisecrack goes viral, and Pepper becomes the target of death threats, the wrath of the RMF (Radical Masculine Feminists), and faces the possibility of losing his job. This dramatic upheaval gives rise to more pressing issues: Is he not the good person he believed he was? Will his daughter, a bright young correspondent for NPR, still respect him? Where are the lines drawn in this new culture war?

Mehlman, 64, celebrates the release of his novel next Thursday (Nov. 21) at Budman Studios in Venice. He spoke to The Argonaut about the origins of “#MeAsWell,” the pros and cons of a “sensitive” culture, and how social media has whipped societal change into a frenzy.

“#MeAsWell” addresses gender politics, digital culture and social movements. How long have you been thinking about these topics, and what prompted you to write the book?

I wasn’t consciously thinking about these subjects — I mean, of course it’s almost impossible to not be thinking about them — but what caused me to write this book originally was reading an obituary of Philip Roth. The writer was talking about “Portnoy’s Complaint,” and I was wondering: What would I be as obsessive about as Portnoy was about his mother? And the funny thing is, the only thing I could come up with, that I had that many opinions on, was sports. So originally the book was going to be a little bit of a sports screed. But then, I don’t know, it just changed on its own. The idea about making one joke about an athlete and having it go viral just hooked into a whole bunch of different things that kind of consumed me, like politically incorrect humor.

Also, I have to say, that when the Harvey Weinsteins and the Louis CKs and Matt Lauers of the world go through what they are going through, I’m always wondering what their day-to-day life is like. You know? Going to restaurants, just the looks you get. Can you go out to dinner with your daughter? All that stuff just fascinates me.

The plot of the book unfolds over only two days. Why such a tight timeframe?

I wanted it to be really concentrated, to go into the immediate effects of what happens when somebody is caught up in one of these storms. I found that there was a wealth of little moments that you could get into, and obviously the book is a little bit exaggerated, just for dramatic and humorous effect.

Some might agree with Arnie Pepper that the culture is too “sensitive” now. Have we lost the ability to laugh at ourselves?

A few things about that. For one, everybody says, ‘OK, we’re all super sensitive now and these things go in cycles and it will swing back.’ I’m not that sure it will swing back. I don’t think we’re going to become less sensitive, and in certain ways that’s good. Even Arnie says that, in certain ways, there’s progress in political correctness because people are aware that they can so easily offend someone else. At the same time, it’s hard not to ascribe a lot of this to social media, because there are people sitting around just dying to be offended so they can lash out, because now everyone’s got a soapbox to lash back. … I’ve written the absolute most feathery little humor pieces for different publications, and the letters you get back are so vicious it’s amazing. To this day it never ceases to amaze me, the angry responses I get to stuff that, to me, are like unbelievably puff pieces.

Do you think this anger is new, or is it just that we have platforms to express what we weren’t able to express before?

There’s a bit of me that feels there are so many people in America now, so many people in the world now, who are more anonymous, in a way, than they’ve ever been. And when they look out to the select famous people in the world who get to express themselves, they’re like, ‘Why not me?’ I think people’s values have gotten a little more skewed. I like to think that people weren’t always like this.

You know, the funny thing is, it used to be that if you lived in New York you had no clue what a person in Oklahoma thought. Now you not only know, they literally respond to the stuff that you’re putting online, and you find out their opinions not even secondhand but right in your face. It’s crazy.

It seems that younger people intuit the new rules of culture a little bit better than older generations. This shows up in the book, too. What gives younger people the edge?

I think younger people are always more on the ball about things. The Baby Boomers were much more on top of things in the ’60s, and our parents were completely out of the loop. Now the Baby Boomers are the aging generation, and everything is happening so fast it’s really hard to keep up. We just hear about it, bits and pieces, from our kids and our kids’ friends.

Through my stand-up comedy hobby I meet a lot of young comedians. They’re very sensitive about where [topically] they can go, but at the same time they can go to certain areas that seem like they should be offensive but they’re not, you know? If they’re not getting laughs, they go right to some kind of anal sex joke and it’s hysterical, and they’re laughing, and the audience is laughing like crazy. I don’t know. It seems a little cheap. I think [Arnie Pepper] mentions this in the book, about how no matter how sensitive everybody is, an eight o’clock sitcom can make a joke about prison rape and somehow that’s OK. There are these weird rules.

What makes certain jokes OK and others not?

Humor-wise, there are certain people that can get away with just about anything, and most people can’t. Sarah Silverman is such a brilliant comic because the way she delivers her lines she can pretty much say anything, or Howard Stern can pretty much get away with saying anything. If you are just a no-name comedian, or an anonymous person on the street, it’s very dangerous to say the exact same thing that Sarah Silverman said. So a lot of it depends on your delivery.

Last question: If I were to ask Arnie Pepper the Lakers’ chances of winning a title this year, what do you think he would he say?

He would say their chances of winning a title are about a quarter as good as the chances of the Clippers winning the title.

An improvement from recent years! I’ll take it.

Praise for Peter Mehlman and his first novel, It Won’t Always Be This Great

“It turns out that not only can Peter Mehlman write funny television, he can write a funny book. Who knew?”Julia Louis-Dreyfus, star of Veep and Seinfeld

 “Anyone who writes for television gets frustrated that they can’t write like Peter Mehlman. Now he’s going to make novelists mad too. Mehlman’s writing style is completely unique and creates an intimate bond between the narrator and the reader. You finish the book feeling as though you’ve made a new friend.”   Aaron Sorkin, Academy and Emmy-award winning screenwriter, producer, and playwright, whose works include A Few Good MenThe West Wing, The Social Network, and The Newsroom

  “Overflowing with humorous, strange, and insightful social observations, the novel is told with Mehlman’s particular sensibility . . . In a refreshing twist, Mehlman creates a narrator who still loves and respects his wife, Alyse. Even after 24 years, he’s still trying to impress her.” The Huffington Post

 As the nameless narrator tells his story to a college pal lying comatose in a hospital bed, there are clear echoes of Catcher in the Rye and the inspired nothingness of Seinfeld. Throw in some catch-me-if-you-can themes from one of the greatest Russian novels—Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment—and basketball references with echoes of Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, and this jokey dark comedy can claim serious literary inspiration. LA Weekly

“Here’s a book that’s not about nothing. Former Seinfeld writer and co-executive producer Peter Mehlman released his first novel, It Won’t Always Be This Great, on Monday. The novel’s tale, narrated by a Jewish podiatrist living in New York, begins with an uncharacteristic act of vandalism and spirals out of control from there. There’s a false arrest, flirtations with an attractive young patient, and the looming threat of the narrator being found out. And while Mehlman says Seinfeld didn’t inspire the novel any more than any of the many other parts of his life, there’s plenty of neurotic humor for fans of that era of his work to dig into.” Hollywood Reporter

“American humor would not be the same without Peter Mehlman, a former co-executive producer of Seinfeld and leading television writer and producer.” The Wrap

“Thanks to Peter Mehlman, former Seinfeld writer and producer, the terms ‘shrinkage’ and ‘yada-yada’ became a part of the popular vernacular.” NPR’s Fresh Air

 “Peter Mehlman worked in sports for Howard Cosell, wrote legendary episodes of Seinfeld, and now he’s written an amazingly funny and heartfelt novel. Unstoppable!” Marv Albert, Hall of Fame Sports Broadcaster

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PLEASE CHECK OUT MANDELA WAS LATE elsewhere on this site.  A collection outrageous and entertaining essays and accompanied by Mehlman’s colorful trademark doodles, Mandela Was Late traverses the inner universe of a satiric genius who maybe should be getting out of the house a little more often. Wrapped in his cocoon of Hollywood residuals, battling his own (mounting?) foibles day by day, former Seinfeld writer/producer Peter Mehlman somehow manages to see the world a little more clearly than the rest of us.